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The Electronic Pillory

July 21, 2002|CAROL MUSKE-DUKES | Carol Muske-Dukes is a poet and professor of English at the University of Southern California. Her forthcoming book is "Married to the Icepick Killer: a Poet in Hollywood."

Judging by the number and alarmed tone of the e-mail messages, the threat is significant and ongoing. It has certain members of the military--both active and retired--on high alert, cautioning each other to remain attentive. A ubiquitous ''pass it on" at the end of each message telegraphs an urgency about getting the word out to others.

What is this menace keeping so many of our nation's self-declared patriots awake at night? Osama bin Laden? Saddam Hussein?

No, it's our former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As a feminist and longtime casual admirer of the New York senator, I am probably not a typical recipient of these oddball battlefield communiques. But through the dubious courtesy of my late husband's estranged relative (a furious-at-the-world retired military man in his 70s), I've been placed on a ''copy to" list, presumably in the hope that if I can't be educated I can at least be provoked. In fact, I'm almost grateful for the fascinating glimpse into a bizarre world of overwrought, blitzkrieg-style ''bulletins" passed along by a group of furtive character assasins that has focused all its paranoid zeal on one woman.

A while back, I was included in an ''alert" that breathlessly (if belatedly) recounted the details of then-President Clinton's appointment of a former Black Panther sympathizer to a government post. The narrative turned out to concern itself not so much with the president's choice, but with how the so-called "smartest woman in the world," Hillary Clinton, had defended this choice. A further charge: Hillary was a ''radical" while at Yale Law School, where she organized pro-Black Panther Party demonstrations to support the group's ''murderous" policies. Ultimately, the demonstrations ''shut down" the school. The narrative ended with the (now-familiar) ''pass this on!" and exhortations to remember this transgression ''if and when she runs for president!"

One primary source of information cited in many of the messages is a Web site called NewsMax.com, a buzzing online hub proffering ''exposes" and the ''news behind" many current events. The site, which acknowledges that it ''has a big job ahead as we seek to expose the real Hillary Clinton," is filled with ''facts" about the senator--from the ''fact" of her torrid love affair with the late White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster to testimony (audiotape for sale) from former Arkansas state trooper Larry Patterson about crude remarks he said she made behind closed doors about ''blacks, Jews, police officers, Republicans and others." Her future compensation is explored, with the conclusion that even if she ''is not reelected, she'll get her full salary as a pension. If Clinton dies, his full presidential pension goes to Hillary."

If that's not sufficiently headline-worthy, how about this item from an e-mail bulletin I received attacking Sen. Clinton for snubbing the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of women whose sons and daughters died in the line of duty with the U.S. armed forces or its allies. According to the e-mail, a delegation from the group's New York chapter made a trip to Washington ''to discuss various concerns with their elected representatives." And, naturally, it was the one politician who ''has never showed [sic] anything but contempt for our military" who refused to meet with the delegation. Who? Who else: ''the Queen herself, the Hildebeast--Hillary Clinton." She had, according to the e-mail, ignored ''repeated requests" from the Gold Star Mothers to meet with her. The message ends with a non sequitur postscript about how the Clintons are charging the Secret Service $10,000 a month rent for housing the agents that guard them, thereby covering the family's $10,000 monthly mortgage payment on the house they bought to establish a New York state residence for Hillary Clinton's Senate run. ''Please forward this to as many people as you can," the missive concluded. ''We don't want this woman to even think of running for president."

One problem with the torrent of anti-Hillary missiles is that the payload's a dud--the stories are largely based on untruths. At a Web site that investigates the veracity of urban legends, truthorfiction.com, the Black Panther story is put into perspective. Hillary Clinton may have been involved in college demonstrations during the 1970 murder trial of Panther party co-founder Bobby Seale, but these were peaceful demonstrations and did not ''shut down" the university.

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